New Hampshire Independents May Pick a Party at Last Minute

Decisions Could Depend on Iowa Results

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PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AdAge.com) -- If it's tough to track to track voters' preferences normally, tracking them this time in New Hampshire is presenting all sorts of new complications and indications that the result could endanger polling results.

New Hampshire Republican Chairman Fergus Cullen cautioned that with open races on both sides and the ability of registered independents to choose either party ballot means that a number of the state's voters will not only wait till the last minute to choose a candidate, they may wait till the last minute to choose a party primary to vote in.

If Hillary Clinton or a rival wins a landslide victory in Iowa and the likely winner of the nomination is clear, New Hampshire independents may vote in force in the GOP primary. The tilt could be to the Democratic primary if the Republican choice is clear.

"In 2000, independents overwhelmingly voted in the Republican Party in part because they were attracted to John McCain, in part because [the Democratic race] was a sleeper between Al Gore and Bill Bradley, neither one of which was very charismatic," said Mr. Cullen. "This time, with the Democrats having more charismatic candidates, independents will probably vote in both unless there's a blow out in the Democratic side. The independents want to watch the competitive race games."

Mr. Cullen also warned that using TV ad spending in the state as an indication of campaign strength could be deceiving. For example, Mitt Romney's TV spending is readily apparent, but the Giuliani's campaign heavy use of direct mail and radio isn't as easily trackable. He said he's received at least four direct-mail pieces from the Giuliani campaign. He added that there are some signs the internet is increasingly letting smaller campaigns more effectively compete.

"The arrival of the internet has completely changed how crowds are built and how people communicate. It's a great leveler. An underfunded candidate can do the same amount of communication at the same cost as the Mitt Romneys."

Finally, ad spending can have little to do with staffing. Mr. Cullen said Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have each opened 15 to 20 state offices, and there are reports each has 70 staffers in the state gearing up for "real trench warfare."